Most of the miracles that happen in your massage practice occur after a client leaves. You may never see a husband be kinder to his wife upon arriving home, a mother more affectionate with her children, or a stressed-out caregiver once again able to be present for her ill parent.
This is the profound impact of your work, and a compelling reason to be the best you can be. When you are living and working at your best, your massage practice will thrive and you can offer your gift to many people.
The Journey Toward Success
Your success as a massage therapist depends on confidence: confidence in yourself, and your clients’ confidence in you and your work. The journey we will undertake in this article is one that will bring you to this state of being with your clients. Confidence will bring more clients, more loyalty and more success as a therapist.
The phrase “build consumer confidence” sounds like a marketing catchphrase someone came up with while trying to impress his boss; but this concept can be translated into something more holistic. For massage therapists, this concept means: My clients trust me as a health care provider and the role I play in their well-being. This is simple to write, but must be painstakingly managed to manifest. When you do, you will never want for clients again.
The four steps toward greater confidence are self-care, consistency, communication and compassion.
As with any journey, it is always best to focus on yourself first, because the preparation and personal planning you put into a trip helps ensure smooth travel and happier connections along the way.
Let’s start with a simple question: Do you have confidence in yourself as a massage therapist? Before you can instill confidence in others, you must first have a strong, almost unshakable, belief in yourself. (Click here to take a short quiz to gauge your self-confidence.)
You will need to identify what you feel insecure about. Questions to ask include:
- Do I fully understand the benefits of massage? Or more importantly, do I believe in the benefits of massage?
- Am I confident in the level of schooling I received?
- Do I feel intimidated by clients?
Taking time to deeply consider and honestly answer these questions using whatever method works best for you—meditation, journaling, movement, artwork or any other process—will allow you to determine what areas you need to focus on to become more confident in your professional skills.
One way to increase confidence in your work is to stay current with massage research. Consumers are awakening every day with an interest in natural and holistic ways to care for themselves, and massage therapy fits perfectly into this paradigm. The more knowledge you possess, the more believable you are—and the more your confidence will encourage clients to return.
You get extra confidence points when you become knowledgeable about specific client issues. For example, if your client suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome and you understand the research on the benefits of massage to alleviate the syndrome’s discomfort and are able to knowledgeably communicate this information, your client will appreciate your ability to address his issue.
If you feel you need to bolster confidence in your hands-on skills, seek continuing education courses. Research and select carefully, so this education increases your confidence in the massage room. Such classes will enhance the work you are doing with current clients. Tell clients you are taking classes to offer them the skills they require for their unique situations.
As your confidence in both the benefits of massage and your own hands-on skills grows, you will find yourself strengthened by that confidence when facing clients whose personality or condition might have intimidated you in the past.
Imagine your favorite coffee drink. Now imagine you regularly go to the same coffee shop, and each time you order your favorite drink the baristas make it differently. How frustrating would that be? You wouldn’t be able to trust them to get it right, so you find a coffee shop that will listen to your order and make it correctly.
Consistency is very important for a massage practice. This doesn’t mean you become an assembly line and provide the same service to every client; it means you consistently deliver to the expectations clients hold in each moment. If a client requests a deep-tissue massage with extra attention on his feet and neck, then plan to deliver a deep-tissue massage with extra attention on his feet and neck. At his next session, he might want something totally different. Your job is to maintain consistency in your ability to hear and respond to the client’s needs for each session. Your consistency in responsiveness will help build clients’ trust, because when you are consistent, they know you are really listening to them and delivering to their needs, something all humans want.
Massage therapist Aniy Wheeler has been practicing massage for six years and joined the team at Elements Therapeutic Massage in Flower Mound, Texas, a year ago. Wheeler has done an admirable job of building clientele, and has a high rebooking rate. When therapists join the team at Elements, a company focused on therapist longevity, they are provided training that helps contribute to their success. “I follow the service-path training I learned when I started working here,” Wheeler explains. “There are three areas most important to ensuring I have happy clients who want to return.”
First, during the intake, Wheeler covers what will be included in the session and allows the client an opportunity to make special requests. She then asks for the client’s agreement regarding what the session will look like.
Second, Wheeler says, listening is key. “It seems so simple, but you have to listen to them so they can begin to trust you completely.” She suggests eye contact as one way of connecting with clients. Paraphrasing and reflecting back what you hear clients say is another way of helping them know they’ve been heard.
Third, Wheeler does a five-minute check-in before the session ends. “I may think I have done a great massage, but the client might feel I missed something,” she explains. “During the last five minutes, I tell them specifically that I want them to be happy and ask if there is anything else they would like me to focus on before their session ends.
“This might be the only time anyone ever asks them what would make them happy,” she adds.
Direct, honest, authentic communication plays a vital role in building trust with massage clients. Because there is potential for your clients to feel vulnerable, it is extremely important you keep the lines of communication open throughout the entire session.
There are many areas that offer potential for discomfort during a session. We’ll look at just three: depth of pressure, client expectations and rebooking.
Depth of pressure can make or break a client’s satisfaction; luckily, this is easy to remedy. Instead of just asking, “How’s that pressure?” you can experiment with garnering more specific feedback.
To do this, frame your question in the following way: “In terms of pressure, would you like a little more, a little less, or does this feel about right?” This approach encourages the client to respond in a way that offers you guidance. At its core, the question communicates to the client’s autonomic nervous system that you are paying attention and his feedback is valued, which builds trust.
Client expectations can result in a feeling of surprise or discomfort when those expectations aren’t met. Always ask permission before you incorporate anything the client is not expecting, such as warm stones or scented oils. The same is true for a new hands-on technique or extra attention paid to one area. If you determine the client could benefit from additional work to an area—the back, for example—let her know you still plan to give her extra time on her neck and feet, and ask permission to do some extra work on her back. This lets her know you are upholding your original agreement while building her confidence in your attention and responsiveness.
Broaching the topic of rebooking also has the potential for awkwardness. Many practitioners struggle with inviting clients back and educating them about the benefits of frequent massage, yet this is essential to building a thriving practice.
Here is one approach: First, offer one research-based benefit the client might expect to experience based on his therapeutic goals. Next, suggest the frequency with which you believe the client should receive massage. Also, suggest one piece of homework, such as a stretch, that will augment the benefits of the session until the next session.
Here is a template for talking about rebooking: “Based on our time together today, I recommend a massage (insert frequency) to (insert benefit). Research shows (insert relevant research snippet). Before our next session, I recommend (insert homework) to add to the benefits of today’s session.”
Being heartfelt when interacting with clients helps foster trust in the therapeutic relationship. Unconditional positive regard is a concept explored by Swiss psychologist Carl Rogers. It simply means to hold a space of positive neutrality in your heart when interacting with people. It is easy to allow thoughts of judgment and criticism to impact your relationship with some of your clients—but if you hold these thoughts, clients will feel them. Regardless of what career you choose, there are always going to be people who push your buttons. How you respond is completely your choice. So try holding a place of compassion and regard for all your clients.
A research review of more than 200 studies examining stress and cortisol levels found being negatively evaluated, especially by someone of importance to us, is the most important variable that elevates cortisol levels in our blood during a stressful event.
In other words, what causes our greatest increase in cortisol release is not having too much to do, a stressful career or family life, or feeling deadline pressure, it’s how negatively judged we feel we are by others.
Travel the Path
Mastering the four steps of building client confidence—self-care, consistency, communication and compassion—won’t happen overnight. But if you simply start where you are, you will find yourself traveling a path of increased confidence and reaping the personal and professional benefits of this wonderful profession of massage therapy.
About the Author
Debra Koerner is the author of Success from the Start: Business Principles for Massage Therapists (F.A. Davis) and co-founder of imassage Inc., a massage-education and consulting company. She is also host and executive producer of Journey into Wellbeing, a TV series on PBS, as well as Senior Moments, set to premiere in November.